Jeff Green | Nov 29, 2012
Jason Ronfeld got his start as a firefighter with the Kaladar/Barrie Fire Department, where he was a young recruit in the late 1990s, but even before that time he thought about becoming a professional firefighter.
“Fire fighting has always been a passion of mine” he said from his home in Whitby this week, where he now works as a professional firefighter with the Whitby department.
Last Thursday, along with his firefighting partner John Sotirou, Jason received the Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery from Lieutenant Governor David Onley for his actions in response to a house fire in Whitby at the end of April.
There is an ongoing investigation into that fire, so Jason could not talk about all the details. He was called into a house “just across from the fire station just after midnight on April 29. There was smoke outside in the air. No fire was visible to us. We knew there were people in the upstairs apartment so we went in and did a search for them. It was very hot and very smoky,” Jason recalls.
The events that took place were described in the citation that accompanied the award last week:
“Fire damage to the staircase was extensive and conditions on the upper floor were extremely hot with zero visibility. The firefighters could see fire above them on the ceiling. During the search for occupants, the firefighters saw that fire was reforming up the staircase, their only exit route. They used water to suppress the fire, which worsened visibility. Nearing the end of the search, Firefighter Ronfeld noticed the air in his self-contained breathing apparatus was getting low. Through their extensive search of the dwelling unit they were able to locate three unresponsive teenagers huddled together. Firefighters Ronfeld and Sotiriou grabbed each teenager and passed them off to firefighters who had now come upstairs to assist with victim removal. Sadly, despite the valiant and selfless efforts of the firefighters, none of the three victims survived. Back outside, the firefighters noticed that their metal buckles and reflective tape on their gear had been discoloured by the intense heat. That was a clear sign of the extreme conditions these two firefighters faced.”
This was the first time that Jason Ronfeld had been called upon to do this kind of rescue. He said that he knew the conditions were extreme and that he was at risk, but "knowing there were people in there and there was a chance to get to them kind of pushed us. Adrenaline, and a lot of training, comes into play at that point. They played a very large role in what we did.”
All of that training began in Jason's senior year at North Addington Education Centre (NAEC) when he was recruited to the Kaladar/Barrie department by then Fire Chief John Bolton. Jason trained with the department until the year 2000, when he left to study Fire Protection Technology and attend Seneca College. After graduating, he returned home to work with his father at Ronfeld Electric for a year, before returning to Seneca to take the professional firefighter course. He was hired by the Whitby department in January of 2006 and has been working there ever since.
All of that history, and training, came into play on April 29.
John Bolton happened to be watching the 11pm CHEX TV news from Peterborough last Thursday night when the regional reporter from Oshawa–Whitby came on with a report about the two Whitby Firefighters who won bravery medals.
“That's how I found out. I saw Jason on the screen getting one of the awards. My wife was going to Kingston the next day, and I told her I needed a new shirt because I broke all the buttons on my old because my chest got so puffed out with pride,” John Bolton said.
On a more serious Bolton recalled that Jason Ronfeld had always impressed him with his overall work in the department. North Addington Education Centre helped the fire department's recruiting efforts by offering a credit course in firefighting and “Jason was one of those excellent recruits, who stayed with the department right up until he was hired by the Whitby department. We were proud of him then and we are proud of him, and his parents, now.”
Jason got his start in fire rescue at a house in Kaladar that the department would use for training.
“We would fill it with smoke and send the fighters in to simulate rescues, but I'm sure Jason has had better training since then.”